National Park Service Awards $2.1 Million for Return of Native American Remains, Sacred Objects

by Jon D. B.

The National Park Service (NPS) grants will assist with the “consultation, documentation and repatriation of ancestral remains and cultural items.”

As part of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), NPS announced $2.1 million in funding to nine Indigenous Tribes and 20 museums. In total, seven cultural items, more than 3,500 funerary objects, and human remains comprising 493 ancestors will return to their homes. Six NPS grants will fund their transportation and return to Tribes.

“Repatriation of human remains and sacred cultural objects to Native American Tribes, Alaska Natives, and the Native Hawaiian Community is fundamental to ensuring the preservation of Indigenous culture,” NPS Director Chuck Sams announces as part of NPS’s media release.

“These grants are just one way National Park Service is advancing a whole-of-government effort to strengthen Tribal sovereignty and repair our nation-to-nation relationships,” Sams adds.

National Park Service Grants Highlight Importance of Indigenous Repatriations

The history of one grant recipient, Beloit College, Logan Museum of Anthropology, also highlights the importance of Indigenous repatriations.

Harold Jacobs, Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, also Joe Watkins, NPS. Tlingit clan hat, repatriation ceremony in 2018.(NPS photo)

Between 1875 and 1889, ancestral remains were removed by an amateur archeologist in Ventura County, California. The amateur later sold the remains to the Logan Museum in Wisconsin. Representatives from seven culturally affiliated Indian Tribes will travel from California to Wisconsin to pack and transport the collection, comprised of five individuals and 26 burial objects, then bring them back to California.

Over 1,000 ancestors from Ventura County have been reported under NAGPRA by museums across the country, NPS cites. Their remains now reside from Maryland and Massachusetts to New York, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Five other institutions will receive National Park Service grants for similar repatriations.

NPS Grants to Fund Consultation and Documentation

In addition, twenty-four consultation and documentation grants will fund museum and Tribal staff travel, consultation meetings and research. All will serve to support the repatriation process across America.

“The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in Alaska seeks to preserve their culture through the repatriation of items needed for ongoing ceremonial use by clans/tribes of the various Tlingit and Haida communities,” NPS explains. “Clan-owned items (objects of cultural patrimony) are owned by a group and could not have been alienated by any individual.”

These items are also sacred objects, the National Park Service emphasizes. “Each holds the voice of the ancestors and have been in use from time immemorial.”

In addition, these items hold “a history to which no museum can relate. And for which no museum can sing any related song.”

Through NPS-funded repatriation, Indigenous items are returning to their people. To their purpose. But most importantly, they’re returning to life.